The following is a transcript of a presentation we gave at the Neil Patel Advanced SEO Summit. We are consistently asked the question “How did you get to be a contributor at so many major media publications?” so this presentation is an in-depth look at exactly how we did it, and how you can do it too. I hope you find it helpful! For more help, see the following resources:
Hey everyone, and welcome to my presentation on how to scale guest posting to major media publications. The goal of this presentation is to give you the tools you need to get articles published on major media publications, like Forbes, Inc, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur.com, and others, which is awesome for branding, awareness, website traffic, and SEO.
We have contributed to a bunch of various major media publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Inc, Time Magazine, Fortune, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, The Wall Street Journal, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and the list goes on.
Our company, SEO.co, specializes in link building. We help our clients get links and brand mentions from major media publications, and we do this by working with our clients to select publishers they want to appear in, then helping them reach out to those publications and pitch them with content the publication would want to publish.
If you’re here because you want help getting links for your website from major media publications, I’m about to show you the exact process that worked for me to become a contributor at all the publications I’ve written for. If by the end you decide you still want help, check out our contact form at SEO.co, or shoot us an email, we’d be happy to help.
I wish getting published on major media publications was as easy as just emailing an article to an editor and seeing it get published. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Getting published on major media publications requires carefully executed strategy, which can be divided into three phases. Phase I is to establish your reputation, phase II is to get your foot in the door, and phase III is to maintain and grow the relationship.
Phase 3 actually covers what happens after your first post is published, but it’s critical if you want to publish more than just once on a publication, and become a regular contributor, which has awesome benefits.
As you might imagine, major media publications have no problem finding people who want to become contributors on their websites. And because they have no shortage of eager contributors, they can afford to be picky about who they work with and who they don’t. They want people with a proven reputation or specific expertise that will add value for their readership, and that means you need to start by establishing a reputation for yourself. What makes you qualified to speak or write on a given subject?
If you can’t answer that question right now, and you want to be able to get published on major media publications, it’s time to start working toward being able to answer it.
There are 4 steps for doing so, and we’ll go over each of them. They are defining your niche, establishing standout pieces on your own blog, building strategic relationships, and building a social following.
Your first step may seem a bit obvious, but you’ve gotta start by defining your niche. For me, I started with SEO and have since branched out to just about all other aspects of online marketing, and even broader entrepreneurial topics. But you’ve gotta start small when you’re just starting out, and not try to convince an editor that you’re an expert on everything. Being an expert on one topic is much more believable, and will be a more compelling reason for the editor to want to give you a try.
Get as specific as you can; for example, instead of saying you’re an expert at social media marketing, say you’re an expert Instagram marketer.
Next, think about your specific time period. For example, will you cover the history of your niche? Or will you cover current events, or perhaps even make predictions about the future of it?
Once you’ve defined your niche, the next step is to establish some standout published pieces which you can use as your portfolio. Getting an editor to respond to an email is already a major accomplishment, so you don’t want to fall flat when they ask you for published samples of your writing and you can’t truly impress them. Editors will almost certainly ask you for examples of your previously published work, so you need to prepare for this by establishing an impressive portfolio.
This portfolio should eventually include works on and off your website, but for now you can start with your own blog or website, since you can control everything on it, and can make sure it looks polished.
When you send links to your previously published works, generally sending 3 links is enough, but you want there to be more than only those 3, so that when the editor visits those articles, they’ll see there are more, which will make you look more experienced. So, aim for at least 5 to 10 standout pieces on your blog, and down the road you can supplement those with some other published works on small or medium external publications.
So how can you know if an article is worthy of being considered stand-out? Odds are, you already know if it is or isn’t. Ask yourself this question: If your best friend was looking for advice on the topic you wrote about, would you feel 100% confident referring them to your article? If not, it’s probably not stand-out.
Stand-out pieces are generally at least 1500 words, and include embedded supporting media such as images, videos, or infographics.
If those articles have any comments on them, be sure you’ve replied to all of them thoughtfully and politely; this is a really good sign to editors that you will engage their audience, which drives more visits and pageviews for them.
Finally, be sure that the articles you send to the editor show impressive performance metrics, such as views or social shares.
Here’s one article from my company blog at SEO.co that got over 2,000 shares across various social networks. This would be a great article to include in my portfolio because it has performed so well.
I use a plugin for WordPress called Social Warfare to display these social share counts. It’s not free, but it’s cheap – only $29 per year for one website, and I think it’s well worth it. It’s actually #26 on my list of the top 30 marketing tools I couldn’t live without, which if you’re interested in checking out, you can find at https://seo.co/the-top-30-online-marketing-tools-i-couldnt-live-without/.
Of course, getting a ton of shares on your content isn’t easy, but I’ve written an entire guide on exactly the process I use to do it. It includes free tactics and some paid ones, and has an infographic at the end that breaks down the whole process into a checklist you can use for every piece of content you publish.
You can check it out on the SEO.co blog by visiting https://bit.ly/contentunleashed. After you’ve published your articles, you’ll want to use the steps I outline in the guide to get a bunch of shares and views on them.
If you haven’t already caught on, I obviously practice what I preach about promoting my content, and I highly recommend you do the same.
Once you’ve defined your niche and established some standout pieces on your blog, you’re ready to start building strategic relationships.
The goals of this are to grow your reputation by expanding horizontally (because more appearance across various publishers equals a bigger reputation), to establish a credible publishing history (because many posts over time is better than one post recently), and to become familiar with different editorial processes so you’re prepared to deal with the big guns at national media publications.
Obviously, you can’t just jump from having no reputation to a big one; you have to start from the bottom and work your way up, one step at a time. For instance, looking at this drawing, starting at the bottom step could mean reaching out to your friend who has a blog or a Youtube channel you could be a guest on.
Moving up to the next step, you might leverage that first guest appearance to pitch an acquaintance you’ve met at a networking event or perhaps a 1st degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at a small or medium-sized publication. You could subsequently leverage those appearances to take the next step up and pitch a 2nd-degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at an even larger publication, and so on, gradually working your way up to national media publications.
Another good option is to find publishers that publicly solicit guest posts, and pitch them. I Googled “publishers that allow guest blogs” and took a screenshot of the results, which you can see here. 4 of the top 5 results were lists of blogs that accept guest posts, so finding these publishers isn’t hard to do. This is an excellent way to get your name published at a variety of publishers in your niche, which is extremely helpful for establishing your credibility, authority, and expertise; the crucial elements of being able to publish at big, national media publications.
Your social media numbers have a huge impact on your likelihood of getting consideration from editors at major media publications. Publishers want authors who can promote their own work and drive pageviews to their website, so if you aren’t on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s time to get active on them.
Post at least once a day to each one, and multiple times a day for Twitter.
Be sure to promote your published works through your social media accounts, as this shows editors that you will essentially give them free social media promotion if they work with you – that incentive grows as your audience grows, so work on getting more followers, especially on Twitter.
You can get more followers by following other people, since they’ll often follow you back, and simply engaging other people on these social media platforms so they have a reason to follow you and stay following you.
Be active and don’t treat your social accounts as a one-way communication channel; engage with people in conversations.
And of course you can also use paid ads to get more followers if you’ve got a budget.
After completing all the steps in phase 1, you’re ready to move onto phase 2: Getting your foot in the door with major publications. Your first guest post with a major media publication will be the hardest one to get, but after you get it, it will start a snowball effect that will make the rest easier. In fact, with every new publication you land, every new subsequent one will get easier than the previous one.
The steps for phase 2 include identifying editors at target publications, reaching out, and then accommodating everything.
Since this discussion is focused on major media publications, I’m going to skip covering how to find publications in your niche, since there aren’t a ton of major, national media publications, and if they fit that category then you probably already know about them.
So, assuming you already have a list of publishers you want to target, it’s time to figure out who to contact at those publications to become a contributor.
Start by browsing the publisher’s website to see if they offer a way to pitch an article or make a contribution. If they don’t have any information on how to do so, turn to Twitter or LinkedIn and try to find out who the editors are. From there, you can use a tool to help you find each editor’s email address, which you’ll use to introduce yourself and get your foot in the door.
Here’s a nice trick that will help you speed up the process of checking to see if a publisher accepts guest posts. You can use the Google “OR” operator along with the “site:” operator in your search query to see if a specific domain has a page about guest posts or on how to become a contributor.
I’ve got a screenshot of an example search query here so you can see how it’s done. I tried this search query for VentureBeat.com and the first result in Google was Venturebeat.com’s guest submissions page. Clicking that link takes you to a page that provides instructions on how to get in touch with editors at VentureBeat, so that’d be a promising next step to take.
That trick won’t always work, though. I tested it on HuffingtonPost.com and didn’t get any promising hits. That second result that says “guest post” turned out to just be a tag directory, so it’s useless for our purposes.
However, the third result does bring up the contact page for The Huffington Post, which includes a subsection that has instructions on how to contact the editors to pitch them a post. That’s a promising lead to try!
To be honest, though, in my experience it’s really unlikely you’re going to receive a reply if you reach out through a generic contact form. Your best bet is to get in touch directly with an editor at the publication. LinkedIn is my go-to tool for finding editors at various publications. A simple search will often turn up the right person to contact, or at least someone who can point you in the right direction.
As you can see from the screenshot here, I did a simple search for “venturebeat.com editor” and Harrison Weber was the top result.
I clicked on his name to see his profile, and boom, here’s his email address, listed right there at the top.
I hope Harrison doesn’t mind that I haven’t censored his email address here, but I figure that since he has it displayed publicly on his LinkedIn page, he won’t mind. Just do me a favor and don’t reach out to him for at least a few months so he doesn’t hate me if he suddenly gets a hundred emails because of me.
I have to admit that it’s pretty unusual for editors to make their email addresses so easy to find; I usually have to do some digging to find it. If Harrison’s email address wasn’t listed here, the next thing I would do is try to find him on Twitter. A quick Google search led me to his Twitter profile, which you can see on the right side of the screen here, which includes a link to his personal website. I visited his personal website and his email address is also listed at the bottom of it.
So if I wanted to reach out and make a pitch to Harrison, I know how to contact him!
It’s a good idea to repeat this process and try to gather as many editor names and email addresses as you can find at a particular publication, because if one doesn’t respond to you, you can always try another. Just don’t email them all at once – that’s a surefire way to get on their radar as an annoyance rather than an asset.
Once you’ve got a list of editors and publications you want to reach out to about contributing, it’s time to actually reach out to them. Start with just one publisher at a time, rather than sending emails to all the editors, because with every publisher you get published on, that’ll increase your success rate on each subsequent publication.
I’ve found email gets a far better response rate than LinkedIn messages, so go with email as your outreach method.
The process is pretty straightforward, and I’ve got it listed here. You’re going to start by sending your initial outreach email. Assuming you don’t get a response from the editor (which is safe to assume) after 4 days, follow up with another email. Keep persisting with two more follow-ups, a week apart. You can use a browser plugin called Boomerang for Gmail to automatically remind you if you haven’t received a response from someone after a certain number of days, which makes sure you’re able to stay persistent with your follow-ups. Boomerang is actually my #1 favorite marketing tool, so definitely check it out. Persistence really is key with outreach, because it separates you from the hundreds of other people who are reaching out but never bothering to follow up.
If, after 3 follow-ups, you still haven’t received a response, it’s safe to assume you aren’t going to get a response from that editor. Look at your list of editors and start the process over again with a new editor at that publication until you either get a response from someone, or exhaust all your options at that publisher.
If you exhaust all your options at a particular publisher, you can either move on to another publication and repeat these steps, or you can try to schmooze with the editors you emailed on Twitter or LinkedIn so they recognize your name in their inbox, which will hopefully lead to them replying to you.
The email you send to the editor is the most critical component to getting a reply from them. Everything from your subject line to your spelling, grammar, and formatting are going to be scrutinized by the editor, and play an enormous role in whether the editor will reply to you positively (or even at all).
In the next slide I’ll show you an example template for a cold outreach email, but for now I’ll cover the main elements of importance.
The subject line should be unique or simple. The body of your email should start by addressing your contact by their first name, not something generic. Then, start by introducing yourself briefly, in no more than one sentence.
Follow that by explaining why you’re reaching out. Be humble and honest, and don’t try to put a sales spin on anything you say; you’re reaching out because you would like to contribute an article to the site, or perhaps become an occasional contributor to the site.
Follow that by including some links to your standout pieces, and make sure they are highly relevant to the publication you’re reaching out to.
End your email with a thank you for their time and consideration.
Here’s an example of an email I could send to Harrison. Since I’m already a columnist at some big-name publications, I have the benefit of including that in my first sentence. Obviously, you’ll need to replace those publishers with wherever you’ve managed to get published during phase 1.
I like to use the subject line “Introducing myself” because it’s simple and honest, but you can try other subject lines and see how they work for you. I haven’t really tested subject lines to see which ones have better open rates for these purposes, so feel free to test and see what works.
I’ll read the email so we can all read along:
I’ve found that it’s unlikely you’ll receive a response after your first outreach attempt, but you can increase the odds of getting a response by being persistent with your follow-ups. Unfortunately, it’s still unlikely you’re going to get a response (and even less likely you’ll get a positive one), even after all your follow-ups.
But when you do get a positive response, it’s kind of like the feeling you get when you finally feel a bite, to use a fishing metaphor, and sealing the deal feels a lot like reeling in a big catch.
A positive reply from an editor will generally be a request for pitches, or ideas, as a starting point. This is the part where you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the publisher’s website, the types of articles they typically publish, and the ones that typically perform the best.
A tool like Buzzsumo is a great way to find out what articles have performed well for that publisher in the past. This is a screenshot that shows the results in Buzzsumo for when I searched for “Inc.com”. The results show articles published on the site, ranked in order of how many shares they received across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+, combined. Buzzsumo, by the way, is #5 on my list of must-have marketing tools, which again, you can find at https://seo.co/the-top-30-online-marketing-tools-i-couldnt-live-without/.
I can use these search results to propose some article titles and short descriptions for each article idea to the editor.
After you send in your pitches, the editor will either accept one or more of the pitches, or send you some revisions on your pitches based on what they want or need. They may even ask for something unrelated to the specific niche you started with, depending on how badly they need something written on a particular topic. This most often happens when there’s some hot item in the news that they want covered from every angle possible to maximize pageviews.
At this point, all you need to do is accommodate everything they ask for, no matter how ridiculous it seems. This is your chance to get your foot in the door; and you’ll have more flexibility and authority once you build a reputation and establish trust with the editor.
After your first pitch is approved, write the full article, ensuring it complies with any and all guidelines they provided to you, then send it to your editor. There are three common ways editors prefer to receive articles and make revisions on them:
The first is via direct submission, which is where they give you an author login to the WordPress backend, where you can submit your article draft directly for review. Editors will make changes as they see fit before publishing the article.
The second is through editorial review, which is where you’ll email in a draft of your work, usually as a Word document, then receive feedback from the editor on any edits or revisions they need, which you can incorporate into your second draft.
The third is through collaboration, which is where you’ll use Google Docs or a similar collaboration software.
Of course, even after multiple rounds of editing, it’s still possible to have your article outright rejected. Outright rejection usually only occurs after a first draft is submitted and before the revision process has begun, but I’ve had it happen after multiple rounds of revisions, which is disheartening, but still something to be prepared for.
Once you make it through the revision process, the editor will usually ask you for a headshot and a short author bio. Make sure you have a professional-looking headshot ready to send in, and craft your bio.
A bio typically consists of a sentence about who you are and what you do, and I also recommend including social media links so your readers can follow you.
After sending in your headshot and bio, it’s usually just a matter of time until the post is published.
Once you get your first post published, you’re gonna to feel like a total bad-ass. Not only will you get bragging rights about being published in a major media publication, you can leverage that fact in your other marketing efforts.
For instance, if you look at company homepage at SEO.co, we’ve got a scrolling banner that shows all the major media publications we’ve appeared in. It’s a fantastic way to prove your legitimacy and credibility, which can be a huge boon for your site-wide conversion rates.
Including these logos on your contact page can also help improve conversion rates for new leads reaching out to you.
Also, don’t forget to share and promote your newly published article on your social media accounts and any other appropriate channels you can think of.
Content without any readers is lonely content. Don’t let your content be lonely.
I mentioned this earlier, but for a whole bunch of ideas on how to promote your content, you can see my full guide.
Phase 3 is all about building on your new relationship with the editor or publication. Getting published once is great, but becoming a regular contributor or columnist at a major publication is even better. The steps for phase 3 include discovering or creating a rhythm, learning from the past, accepting direction, promoting your best work, and growing your audience.
After your first post is published, reach out to the editor to establish a few things.
First, your “beat,” or niche within this publisher.
Second, how to submit ideas in the future. For example, you can ask if the editor prefers to receive pitches for approval first, or if they’re cool with letting you submit full articles for consideration.
Third, find out how often you should pitch new ideas or submit new articles. Some publishers will allow you to send in as many as you like, and others, such as Inc or Forbes, require a certain minimum amount per month.
Be sure to set Boomerang reminders whenever you send an email so nothing falls through the cracks. This is super important, because it’s very common for editors to just not respond to your emails until after a few follow-ups. I don’t know why this is, and it’s frustrating, but follow-up reminders will save your sanity here.
Once you have at least 10 articles published with a certain publisher, you can start analyzing trends. Take a look at your articles and find out what topics get the most views, likes, shares, and comments.
What post features stand out in your successful content, such as images, length, structure, or takeaways?
How does your audience respond? You can look at comments on your posts to get a feel for this.
Buzzsumo is a helpful tool for quickly finding out which posts performed the best in terms of social shares. It’s especially helpful if you want to compare posts across different publishers.
You can use the “author:” search operator to filter posts only by a specific author, such as yourself, and rank them in order of social shares they received.
This screenshot here shows my most popular posts over the last year.
It looks like businessinsider.com and entrepreneur.com are working pretty well for me; all of my top 5 articles in terms of shares come from those 2 publishers. Three of these posts are directed toward millennials, with titles that tell you what to do in your 20s or 30s, so that tells me that much of my audience are probably millennials.
You and your editor will be a tag-team. Your editor will love you more if your articles perform well, because it’ll make your editor look good. Their job is probably to maximize pageviews, so do what you can to help them achieve their goals, and they’ll help you achieve yours.
Always accept any direction they give you, and don’t hesitate to ask what you could be doing better or how to improve.
If you can build relationships with other editors or staff members at the publication, that’ll help solidify your standing as a valuable contributor in the eyes of not just one editor, but the whole team.
If you have a piece you’re especially proud of, promote it. This’ll earn you more visibility, and will also prove to your publisher that you’re worth keeping around.
Some ideas for promotion include immediately updating your social networks with every new post, interlinking your posts, which means linking to old posts from newer ones to boost their search rankings and direct readers to them in order to increase their pageviews, and even paid ads to drive short-term traffic to the posts.
Whenever you publish a new article, there’s a few things you need to be sure to do.
Fist, announce it to your social media followers.
Next, watch for new comments so you can reply to them. Reader engagement through comments is a great way to pick up new followers and build brand loyalty.
On an ongoing basis, keep building up your followers in each of your social channels so you can get new eyeballs on your content, and periodically ask your followers what content they’d like to see, then give it to them.
As an example of this, in early 2016 I created a one-question survey in Typeform that asked my email newsletter audience what topics they wanted me to cover in-depth so they could learn more about. 540 people responded, and the results of that survey question are shown here.
Content marketing, social media marketing, and brand building were the top 3 topics voted on, so I created guides for each of those on the SEO.co blog. I also used that information to inform the content direction I took with the other various publishers I work with.
The survey was a fantastic way for me to get a snapshot of what my audience wanted or needed from me in terms of content.
After you’ve developed a relationship as a consistent contributor with your first major media publication, it’s time to set sail, expand your horizons so to speak, and look for new publishers to repeat the process with.
With experience at one major media publication under your belt, you’ll see that your success rate increases with the next, and it’s a snowball effect; the more publications you get onboard with, the easier getting onboard with the next will be.
The only problem at that point will be managing all your relationships, ensuring you have enough time to write all that content while maintaining a high level of quality, and promoting the content. You can outsource certain pieces of this process, such as by hiring a personal editor to proof-read your work, and a social media manager to promote your work after it’s been published.
Find your perfect balance with all the other responsibilities you have in your business, and you’ll have it made. I can tell you that this is the exact process I used to become a contributor at all the places I write for, and it’s been the single-biggest factor in growing my business. It’s content marketing at its finest, and while it takes consistency, persistence and dedication, it’s well worth it in the end.
So to wrap up, here are the key takeaways.
In phase 1, you’ll need to start by defining your niche, creating awesome portfolio pieces, building strategic relationships, then building your social media audience.
In phase 2, you’ll start by identifying editors at target publications, perfecting your backlink email outreach template, reaching out, and then accommodating all the editor’s requests until you get published.
In phase 3, you’ll work to establish a posting rhythm, learn what works and what doesn’t from your past pieces, accept the editor’s direction, promote your best work, and nurture and grow your audience over time.
The three tools we’ve covered in this presentation include Social Warfare, which is the plugin for WordPress that displays social media share counts on your posts, Boomerang for Gmail, which is a plugin for Gmail that automatically reminds you when an email recipient hasn’t responded to your email after a certain number of days, and Buzzsumo, which is a web-based tool that helps you figure out what content is the most popular on a particular publication or by a particular author.
If you’re interested in more detail about how you can succeed in online marketing, feel free to visit our SEO blog where we offer tips, tricks and “how tos” for online growth.